Female politicians in developing countries

Found it interesting to compare two yet-unpublished studies on female politicians in developing countries. The first is a recent NBER working paper by authors Julien Labonne, Sahar Parsa, and Pablo Querubín which finds that term limits increase the number of female mayors in the Philippines but that these changes are entirely driven by incumbents’ female relatives running in their steed to maintain dynastic power.

The second is one by Soledad Artiz-Prillaman and does not yet have a public draft (see here for its abstract under the title “When Women Mobilize”), but I saw her present it when I was a grad student at Oxford. Rather than term limits, her policy change of interest is that of gender quotas, particularly in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. In her contextualizing the gender quota policy, she gave examples of how even though women were at the top of the ticket for these seat, campaigning would center around their husbands or their male running mates, including their relative positioning in campaign photos and the typeface sizing of their names in advertisements. This motivates the thrust of the paper, which is “to estimate the relationship between women’s political representation and women’s active political participation and resultant effects on governance and service delivery,” effectively asking to what extent the quota actually furthers gendered political causes.

Both these features—the selection on dynastic legacy and the need for a male anchor to sell female candidates—are discussed in this article :

“I am not asking for your vote because I am young, or because I am a woman,” she would repeat to the crowds after explaining her stand on critical issues. “I have an engineering degree, I have been running a company of thousands of people.”

Still, no speech could begin without explaining that she had the blessing of the party patriarch — though he is in jail with four more years to serve — and his son. And more of the crowd chants of “long live!” featured their names than hers.

“There is a male chauvinistic mind-set in political parties,” she said, “so whenever a woman’s name comes up as a candidate, there are questions about winnability, about funding, unless it is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s daughter-in-law. If it were not for women from political dynasties, local or national, the number of women in India’s Parliament would be even worse. Nearly half the women contesting seats in the current election are dynastic candidates, according to initial data from the Trivedi center.

Development lessons from the Congolese Ebola response

“The biggest impediment to containing Ebola in Congo is not its contagiousness, but suspicion of the state and of aid personnel… While some aid agencies manage to provide valuable services, they are also seen by many Congolese as having questionable ethics.”

Residents perceived the Ebola response as benefiting the rich and powerful. The arrival of vaccinators from Guinea to train locals and of medical teams with recent experience in Équateur was readily mistaken for a gravy train of people from Kinshasa coming to take up well-paid positions in lieu of local employees. The erection of health checkpoints on international and provincial borders slowed down travel and trade, increased border fees threefold, and encouraged extortion.

Then the international responders aggravated the community’s distrust by interpreting reluctance to follow rules about safe burials and patient isolation as a lack of understanding of public health that required reeducation. In fact, the reluctance reflected an understandable lack of enthusiasm for practices that required total separation from loved ones during their illness, denial of human touch at the point of death, and the abandonment of traditional funeral rites, which are of central importance to social and cultural life.

Rote messages about hand-washing delivered to communities without consistent access to water were annoying. Heavy-handed warnings about bats and chimps as possible sources of infection accompanied by pictures of people bleeding from their eyeballs backfired. Vaccination clinics became props for international politicians arriving in SUVs, seemingly more interested in selfies than in listening to locals. Inattention to community feedback and lack of interest by responders in the quotidian health concerns that kill in larger numbers than Ebola underscored the perception that international concern was self-interested. “Riposte” became a toxic word. Fatigue, even hatred, set in. Communities experienced in evading armed groups had no trouble hiding from Ebola surveillance teams.

Of course, this particular public health intervention had much higher stakes than development social scientific projects, but is there anything in the typical PhD curriculum that prepares researchers to be mindful of these dynamics when entering an unfamiliar foreign environment in a position of power? I mean, we hardly prepare PhDs to undertake original research of any kind .

When people talk about the benefit of having researchers from developing countries, the rationale is usually that of local familiarity, (though it’s quite rare though to see people make the follow-on point that of the researchers we do have from developing countries, they tend to come from the same few ones ). Certainly sounds mutually beneficial, though when considering the developing-country researchers who do manage to enter the pipeline, they’re probably selected to be like me: on the basis of coming from a privileged expat bubble in a big city removed from the field contexts that are usually of interest. I did not spend much time in areas of interest to the development research communities as a high schooler in Jakarta or Ho Chi Minh City, it turns out. As with the above example of dynastic female politicians, this is progress but not enough to close the representation gap.

To me, a bigger motivation for greater representation is having researchers with a personal stake in how knowledge about (their or other) developing countries is created and how its people are treated in that knowledge production. This can maybe guard against potentially corruptive incentives to publish lower-quality research just as local familiarity does. I’m not at all qualified to be a spokesperson for the Global South nor is this meant to be a judgment of the ethics of other researchers. My point is that good intentions and even years on the ground are not sufficient guarantors for mitigating the potential for well-funded visiting researchers to naively exert influence. Economics continues to struggle with embarrassing diversity problems and development is a particularly vulnerable area where underrepresentation can cause harm. It requires all sorts of people working in this space making each other’s work better and checking one another’s blind spots.

The debate that brewed for months about whether the WHO should declare a PHEIC for Congo’s Ebola outbreak reflects an agenda that prioritizes distant international fears over local needs, amplifying community distrust. That three prior PHEICs have been declared only when Western countries have felt threatened is not lost on the Congolese. A PHEIC encourages travel bans, movement restrictions, and border closures, despite WHO recommendations to the contrary. The economy in an impoverished region suffers.

Free agency in academic economics

I was weirdly captivated by this article covering the management of an academic department (Columbia economics, 2002-2005) like a sports team.

Here’s Columbia as the Billy King Nets:

“Especially in a place like New York, there is a big temptation to go for assembling people who will be on Charlie Rose, get written up in The New Yorker,” says David Card, who’s credited with helping rejuvenate Berkeley’s economics department. “But that has nothing to do with younger people doing research”—the true measure of a top program.

Columbia as the 2010 Heat:

Davis faced a chicken-and-egg problem: Columbia couldn’t attract first-rate faculty because it didn’t have much first-rate faculty in the department already. And the university didn’t have first-rate faculty in the department because it couldn’t attract them in the first place. Davis couldn’t break the cycle by hiring one top economist a year for fifteen years, because no one was going to leave Harvard or Princeton for a second-rate department. But sunspot theory held a tantalizing alternative: He just might be able to break the cycle by trying to hire ten or fifteen star economists in a year or two—a game-changing move designed to alter people’s perceptions. If everyone expected everyone else to accept the offer, then the department they’d be joining wouldn’t be second-rate.

Columbia as the 2008 Celtics, 2019 Nets, or 2019 Clippers:

Just as interesting as the head count, however, was the way in which Columbia scored. Davis made a point of targeting people who had reasons to want to work together—co-authors, people with similar interests, etc. Then, each time he made an offer, he would tell the candidate who else had received one and who else was likely to. All seven new hires had conversations with one another in which each suggested he was likely to go to Columbia if the other person did, too. “Toward the end, there was a lot of, ‘I’m thinking very strongly about coming; where are you thinking you are?’ " recalls Davis. The theory seemed to be working.

‘Anonymous’ UChicago superstar as Gilbert Arenas:

Consider the case of a recent Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago who has been actively pursued by Columbia. He is a brilliant researcher and continues to be one of the most prolific economists around. But, as one senior economist at a top-five school puts it, “He is one of those guys best appreciated from a distance—personally, he is very much a menace.”

The prickly genius poses a dilemma: On the one hand, it’s hard to say no to a Nobel Prize winner still in his productive years. On the other hand, with someone who has a reputation for being particularly hard on younger economists—precisely the kind of people Columbia still needs to recruit and retain—“it could be like 1929 on Wall Street, where you’re watching assistant professors jump out the window,” says the senior economist. That next rebuilding project may be just around the corner.

Zadie Smith on writing fiction outside one’s identity

Also see here , where 10 authors reflect on that topic:

I wanted to have a character who wasn’t anybody’s stereotypical version of a black woman. But looking back, I’m sure there were ways I could have written her differently — more accurately, more nuanced, more grounded, more specific. What I probably did is I imagined a privileged white woman and poured this black woman inside of her.

Now it’s a writerly virtue to get people right. I’ve learned to not fear obviousness when I’m describing race or topics related to oppression. With an American audience, you have to be as in your face about it as possible because our society encourages delicate euphemism. I’d rather be accused of being obvious than allow people to get away with thinking all of my characters are white people.

You’re not going to be perfect. In The Broken Kingdoms*, my protagonist was a blind woman, and she had a superpower associated with her blindness. As I now know, disability as a superpower is a trope. I didn’t read enough literature featuring blind people to really understand it’s a thing that gets done over and over again.*

And for balance, here’s an attack on non-fiction that did not change my opinion (h/t Helena)

Revisiting Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together (1997)

A lovely reflection by Chinese-Malaysian writer Tash Aw, part of the Paris Review’s Revisited series “in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago”

At the time of his first time watching it, Aw was a fresh Cambridge and Warwick graduate beginning a writing career in London, so not inaccessible to where I found myself as a young adult from Southeast Asia in New York, London, Shanghai, the Bay Area, and Oxford:

Part of me was exhilarated and determined: I was writing about a country and people—my people—that did not exist in the pages of formal literature; I was exploring sexual and emotional boundaries, forming relationships with people who seemed mostly wrong for me, but whose unsuitability seemed so right; I was starting, I thought, to untangle the various strands of my cultural identity: Chinese, Malaysian, and above all, what it meant to be foreign, an outsider.

But the increasing clarity of all this was troubled by a growing unsettledness: I had imagined that the act of writing my country and people into existence would make me feel closer to them, but instead I felt more distant. The physical separation between me and my family in Malaysia, which had, up to then, been a source of liberation, now created a deep anxiety. All of a sudden I saw the huge gulf between the person I had been and the one I now was. In the space of just five or six years, university education had given me a different view of life, a different appreciation of its choices. My tastes had evolved, the way I used language had changed—not just in terms of syntax and grammar but the very fact that standard English was now my daily language, rather than the rich mixture of Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Malaysian slang that I had used exclusively until the age of eighteen. I was writing about the place I was from, about the people I loved (and hated), but felt a million miles from them.

It’s impossible to describe the intense rush of blood to the head that I felt on seeing these two leading actors—young, handsome, but somehow old beyond their years—in the opening scene. They are in a small bed in a boarding house in Buenos Aires. They are far from home, wondering what to do with their lives, how to make their relationship work again. Within seconds they are making love—a boyish tussle with playful ass-slapping that morphs quickly into the kind of rough, quick sex that usually happens between strangers, not long-term partners.

It was the end of the twentieth century; I had watched countless European movies where explicit sex was so much a part of the moviemaking vocabulary that it had long since lost the ability to shock me. But the people in this film were nrandom French or German actors, they were familiar figures of my childhood, spitting into their hands to lubricate their fucking.

Here is the BFI’s guide to Wong Kar-wai’s filmography

Barry Jenkins: ‘Let the record show that Paul Thomas Anderson is jealous of my close-ups. Bruh!’

PT Anderson gushing over Barry Jenkins’ signature close-up shots (starts at 21:47, a clip embedded below).

Jenkins recounts this observation made by Angela Flournoy, who profiled the director for the New York Times , about his close-ups occurring “when it’s not a high moment of drama and it’s just a moment of repose”, what he half-jokingly refers to as HumanVision technology:

These looks don’t quite break the fourth wall, because the actors are not regarding the audience. In “Beale Street,” they’re most often gazing at someone they love. For nonblack audience members, it might be the first time they’ve had a black person direct such a gaze their way; Jenkins offers a glimpse at a world previously hidden to them. For a black viewer, there’s more likely a kind of recognition: I know that face, although I have never seen this actor before.